x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Commuters caught out as cabbies watch cricket

Evening commuters are left stranded in the city centre as thousands of cricket fans took taxis to Zayed cricket stadium to cheer Pakistan to victory.

Fans watch the match at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Fans watch the match at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Evening commuters were left stranded in the city centre yesterday as thousands of cricket fans took taxis to Zayed cricket stadium to cheer Pakistan to victory in the Fortune Cup competition. Crowds of up to 20,000 flocking to the stadium brought traffic to a standstill on nearby roads and diverted most of Abu Dhabi's taxis away from the city centre. The problem was exacerbated by the fact most taxi drivers, who are from Pakistan, wanted to see their team in action against the West Indies. The streets were left eerily empty between 5pm and 6pm when taxi drivers rushed to the games after their shift. Iqbal Hussain, a private taxi driver, said he had to pass by hundreds of people trying to hail cabs as he constantly ferried fans to and from the stadium during the three days of competition on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

"The last few days have been crazy because of the cricket," he said. "I have taken as many passengers as I could but I drive past hundreds of fans who can't get a lift. There is simply too much demand for the number of taxis. "All the taxi drivers I know go to the games as soon as they finish their shift at five o'clock. So if anyone wants a cab in the city then they will be disappointed. For Pakistanis everything stops for the cricket. To have our own team playing here makes it feel more like home. That is why it is so popular."

The popularity of the event, which ended last night, also meant fans faced huge delays entering and leaving the stadium. Limited access through a single road caused chaos an hour before the game as fans rushed to buy tickets and crowd through the turnstiles. Many were frustrated that the delays made them miss the opening hour of the game. Hassan Adnan, who attended all three days, was critical of the event's organisation. He said: "It has been difficult to get into the grounds in the morning. People get very angry if they miss any runs or wickets. To be honest the organisation has been bad. There are no bins at all, so there is rubbish everywhere. And there is nowhere to buy any food."

At the end of each match there have been long delays to leave the stadium and heavy traffic on the roads. People leaving by car have had to fight through a line of taxis queuing to pick up passengers. The congestion led to calls for a public transport link to the stadium, which is not served by buses and is not within walking distance of the city centre. The three-match series has been a steep learning curve for organisers more used to local matches with only 250 spectators. Sanjeev Kapoor, of the event organiser PDM international, said it was not cost-effective to provide buses for fans, but admitted lessons had been learned. "It would cost Dh10 (US$2.70) per person if we provided coaches or buses from Abu Dhabi so we could only justify that for customers with premium price tickets. The stadium can only be accessed by a single-lane road and so it can get clogged up at the beginning and end of games. However, access is always an issue for an event of this scale. "One of the things we could have done was provide better road signs. We will look at this before the next series. Generally, we only have 250 spectators for local games so hosting international matches presents a logistical challenge. But we are always looking to make the ground more accessible and I'm sure we will learn some lessons from this series." Mr Kapoor said access had been improved since the stadium opened in 2006. "Originally we only had a levelled road and people did not know how to get here," he said. "We now have a tarmac service road and segregated car parking to ease congestion. Now people in Abu Dhabi are aware of the location but perhaps those from Dubai and other emirates still have difficulty. "We hope that we can host major international tournaments and so making sure supporters are happy is a priority for us." Despite the traffic problems, supporters of the Pakistani team were definitely happy with the outcome of the one-day series. In the final match yesterday, Pakistan, who made 273 in their 50 overs, completed a 3-0 whitewash by dismissing their West Indian opponents for 242 to secure a 31-run victory. tbrooks@thenational.ae